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Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa

Author(s): Chapurukha M. Kusimba

Source: The African Archaeological Review, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Jun., 2004), pp. 59-88
Published by: Springer
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African Archaeological Review, Vol. 21, No. 2, June 2004 (? 2004)

Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa

Chapurukha M. Kusimba1

African archaeology has primarily been concerned with precolonial Africa. Con
sequently, the archaeology of colonial and postcolonial Africa has been neglected,
in spite of thefundamental importance of how Africa s relationships with Eurasia
after 1488 shaped its history. Although the slave trade was an important aspect
of post-sixteenth century experiences of Africans, current research methodologies
make the archaeology of slavery in Africa nearly impossible because evidence of
the slave trade or slave quarters, cemeteries, areas,
slavery?including holding
shackles, and dungeons?can be interpreted in various ways. In this article I ar

gue that the archaeology of slavery and the slave trade in Africa is possible. Like
history and economics, archaeology is well placed to investigate slavery inAfrica
as it already does effectively in the Americas. Using the study of defensive rock
shelters in Southeast as an example, I propose that the systematic archae
ology of slavery inAfrica is not only possible, but also should break new grounds
and develop an innovative methodology for studying slavery.

L arch?ologie africaine a ?t? principalement concern?e par VAfrique pr?coloniale.

Par cons?quent, Varch?ologie de VAfrique coloniale et postcoloniale a ?t? oubli?e,
malgr? V importance fondamentale de la fa?on dont les rapports de l'Afrique
avec Eurasia 1488 ont trac? son histoire. Bien que le commerce d'esclaves
soit un aspect important des du post-seizi?me si?cle, les
exp?riences africaines
m?thodologies courantes de recherches rendent Varch?ologie de V esclavage en
car commerce ou de -
Afrique presque impossible l'?vidence du Vesclavage com

prenant les quarts, les cimeti?res, les camps, des cachots, et des donjons des
esclaves peut ?tre interpr?t? de diverses mani?res. Dans cet article, j'argue du

fait que F arch?ologie de l'esclavage et le commerce d'esclaves en Afrique est pos

sible. Comme l'histoire et les sciences ?conomiques, Varch?ologie est bien plac?e
pour effectuer V ?tude de V esclavage en Afrique comme elle V est d?j? efficacement
en Am?rique. En utilisant ? ?tude des abris rocheux d?fensifs au Kenya du sud-est
comme exemple, je propose que la syst?matique de Varch?ologie de l'esclavage en

associate Curator, African Archaeology and Ethnology, Department of Anthropology, The Field
Museum 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 6060-52496.


0263-0338/04/0600-0059/0? 2004 PlenumPublishingCorporation

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60 Kusimba

est non seulement mais devrait permettre de franchir

Afrique possible, ?galement
de nouveaux pas et de d?velopper une m?thodologie innovatrice dans V ?tude de
I esclavage.

KEY WORDS: slavery, slave trade, warfare, precolonial Africa, East Africa.


Slavery and the slave trade are ancient practices that can be traced back more
than two millennia inAfrica. For centuries, humans were part of the cargo in trade
conducted between Africa and Eurasia, along with ivory, gold, and other commodi
ties of legitimate trade (Alpers, 1975; Austen, 1989; Bulcha, 2002; Cooper, 1977;
Curtin, 1984; Freeman-Grenville, 1965; Kopytoff andMiers, 1977; Lovejoy, 2000;
Manning, 1982, 1990; Martin and Ryan, 1977; Ringrose, 2001; Thornton, 1992).
Enslaved and free Africans were present in Asia before the European conquest
and settlement of the Americas (e.g., DuBois, 1965; Harris, 1971, 1985, 1992).
Political independence spawned much interest in African history and the
role of oral traditions, ethnography, and archaeology in writing that history (e.g.,
Atieno-Odhiambo, 2001; Falola and Ajayi, 1993; Henige, 1974; Ogot et al, 2002;
Oliver and Fage, 1975; Schmidt, 1978, 1983, 1990, 1995; Vansina, 1965, 1990).
One of themajor research topics inAfrican history in the 1960s and 1970s was the
impact of slavery and slave trade on African societies (Beachey, 1976; Glassman,
1991,1995; Klein and Robertson, 1983; Kopytoff andMiers, 1977; Lovejoy, 2000;
Manning, 1982,1990; Mirza and Strobel, 1989; Rodney, 1969). The role of slavery
and the slave trade in the underdevelopment of Africa through depopulation and
warfare and the destruction of indigenous African technologies and economies has
been debated for many generations (C?saire, 1955 [2000]; Gates, 1998; Lovejoy,
2000; Manning, 1990; Mbotela, 1934; Rodney, 1969, 1971; Thornton, 1992).
In contrast to historians, research by East Africanist archaeologists has been
less prolific. With few exceptions (e.g., Donley, 1982, Donley-Reid, 1984, 1986),
archaeologists have devoted little effort to the study of the various dimensions
of slavery and the slave trade. What factors have contributed to archaeologists'
disinterest in a topic that, arguably, has great relevance for understanding the
origins of social and political inequality inAfrica?
John Alexander (2001) attributes archaeologists' silence to the difficulty of
recognizing material evidence for slavery in archaeological contexts. In his words,
archaeological evidence for slavery is a "near-impossibility, in the present state of
field techniques of recognizing chattel-slavery from material remains unassociated
with documentary evidence" (Alexander, 2001, p. 56). Our inability to integrate
field and laboratory techniques so successfully applied in other regions, to study
slavery and the slave trade in East Africa is deeply troubling for the discipline and,
on closer examination, It is crucial for East African
unsupportable. archaeologists

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Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa 61

to enter into a debate that may explain the historical roots of the region's under
development. Notwithstanding Tim Insoll's almost complete omission of the role
of slavery in Islam in his Archaeology of Islam (1999), there is overwhelming
historical, oral, and eyewitness evidence for slavery's historical importance in the
Islamic world, including much of Africa. Within Islamic Africa, slavery was a
prominent cultural practice underpinned by a naturalizing ideology that ascribed a
subservient "stigma" (Allen, 1976, 1993; Benjamin, 2002; Cooper, 1981; Lodhi,
1974; Mirza and Strobel, 1989; Stigand, 1913). The slave trade and slavery cruelly
transformed the lives of African peoples, especially after the late fifteenth century,
moving them from independence to dependent relationships, the strong residues
of which persist into modern times (e.g., Coupland, 1938; Leys, 1975; Nafzinger,
1988; Nwulia, 1975; Rodney, 1971; Sheriff, 1987).
In contrast to East Africa, the archaeology of slavery is an established field in
the Americas, and to some extent, in Southern andWest Africa. In the Americas,
excavations of slave quarters, maroon villages, and burial
plantations, grounds
have greatly improved understandings of enslaved Africans' experiences in the
New World (e.g., Agorsah, 1990, 1993; Andrews and Fenton, 2001; Ferguson,
1992, p. 35; Orser, 1990, 1996; Orser and Funari, 2001; Singleton, 1985, 1995,
1999, 2001). In Southern Africa, the pioneering efforts by Garlake et al (e.g.,
Newitt and Garlake, 1967) have been augmented by attempts to reconstruct the
daily life of South Africans during the early years of European colonization (e.g.,
Hall, 1993; Schrire, 1995). South African archaeologists have invested their efforts
into investigating the composition and life histories of enslaved and other peoples
in bondage. They have reconstructed migration patterns using isotopic analysis of
bones and teeth (Cox etal, 2001; Cox and Sealey, 1997;Morris, 1992; Sealey etal,
1993, 1995). Acknowledging the violence and dehumanizing practices that often
accompanied slavery and colonization, South African scholars are investigating
the vexing and divisive question of ethnocide and genocide of indigenous and
enslaved peoples (e.g., Cox et al, 2001; Morris, 1992). Archaeological research
in South Africa is providing incontrovertible proof of the violent nature of African
encounters with Europeans (Ross, 1983; Shell, 1994).
InWest Africa, engaging anthropology, history, ethnography, archaeology,
and oral traditions in reconstructing and writing the recent African past is a well
established tradition (Agbaje-Williams, 1978, 1983, 1991; Andah, 1995; Holl,
1990, 1995, 2000, 2003; Stahl, 2001). The impact of trans-Atlantic slave trade,
colonial expansion, and trade included migration, resettlements, warfare, and

displacement, by assimilation, acculturation, and ethnogenesis

followed (Curtin,
1984; DeCorse, 1998; Inikori, 1997; Kelly, 1997; Manning, 1990; Thornton, 1992).
Post-sixteenth century societal transformations inWest Africa were a product of
two powerful forces: (1) the European demand for enslaved African labor and
(2) powerful African states' ambitions to extend and preserve their political supe
riority and independence (Manning, 1990; Stahl, 2001, p. 190-191; Wilks, 1975).

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62 Kusimba

Accounts of the oral historians and observers show that re

European intergroup
lations among African societies were dynamic. Alliance building for warfare or
defense among neighboring polities was a common political strategy (Cassey,
1998; Stahl, 1999, 2001, p. 196). Rapid settlement shifts to inhospitable and de
fensible locales like hillsides and mountains provided refuge from slave seekers
and warring states (De Barros, 2001; DeCorse, 1998, 2001; Goucher, 1981; Holl,
2003; Kelly, 1996,1997). Investment in local technologies, including textiles and
ironworking, declined as people turned their attention toEuropean imports (Bisson
et al, 2000; De Barros, 2001; Fowler, 1990; Goucher, 1981; Herbert, 1993). In
creasing attention by West African archaeologists to historical archaeology and
social history as the study of Alltaggeschichte (history of the everyday) is enabling
archaeologists to document and interpret the "lived past" of West African soci
eties at the height of slavery and the slave trade (Holl, 2003; but see Stahl, 2001,
p. 41).
Archaeological study of recent history is less advanced in East Africa despite
the importance of slavery and the slave trade in precolonial and colonial eco
nomic life (e.g., Alpers, 1975, Austen, 1989; Beachey, 1976; Cooper, 1977,1981;
Martin and Ryan, 1977; Nwulia, 1975; Sheriff, 1987). Although Linda Donley
Reid (1984) did not directly investigate household slavery, her work contains a
kernel for the relations between owners and slaves,
understanding particularly
the living conditions and social relations in stratified eighteenth- and nineteenth
century Lamu society. Donley-Reid excavated two elite coral houses inLamu (Plot
984 and Plot 341) and one in Pate (Plot 4). She also conducted ethnoarchaeologi
cal surveys in Shela village not far from Lamu, interviewing current and previous
residents of homes from the same Based on interviews, surveys, and ma
terial remains, Donley-Reid concluded that household slaves lived on the ground
floor at elite residences during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Donley
Reid (1984, p. 289) uncovered an underground chamber and an iron shackle in
Plot 341. The chamber had been sealed when the current coral house was rebuilt.
Lamu was a port of illegal slave trade to Arabia after 1845 (Cooper, 1977, p. 117)
and the chamber was undoubtedly a slave lockup. Despite informants' insistence
that it was used to discipline and punish boys inMadrasa (Donley-Reid, 1984,
p. 342^43), the shackles more likely functions were for chaining slave captives.
Also found in the Lamu dwellings were protective charms and ritual ob
jects including iron nails, cannon balls, stone ballast, hair, Chinese blue and white
porcelain shards, aman's shoe, a glass bottle (for a genie), and bones and skin of
sacrificed goats and chickens (Donley-Reid, 1984, p. 273). The Swahili believed in
the spirits (malevolent and benevolent), witchcraft, and used magic (performed rit
uals) to protect themselves, the household, and their land (Giles, 1989; Middleton,
1992; Nurse and Spear, 1985, p. 22). The numerous love and protective charms,
poison detectors and repellents, and other paraphernalia in Swahili household
attests to tensions and conflict in slave-owning households. Magic, poison, and

witchcraft were the primary means of resistance available to the predominantly

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Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa 63

female household slaves (e.g. Wilkie, 1995). Open revolt or fleeing were overt
forms of resistance (Glassman, 1983, 1991, 1995; Morton, 1990).


Donley-Reids' research tells us about the central household role of female

Coastal slaves visible in the archaeological record. Coastal slavery, of course,
was part of a complex trade relationship with hinterland societies, who were the
source of Coastal slaves and those bound for overseas (Alpers, 1975; Beachey,
1976; Cooper, 1977,1980,1981; Kusimba, 1999a,b; Mbotela, 1934;Mutoro, 1998;
Nwulia, 1975; Robertson, 1997). Our research in the Kasigau area of Tsavo pro
vides the material evidence for slavery and the slave trade's impact on African
communities. Located about 150 kilometers from the Coast, Tsavo was an im
portant source of trade goods, including ivory, and persons bound for Coastal
and international slavery. Our excavations at each of the three seventeenth- and

nineteenth-century rock shelters point to social disintegration and violence that

communities as source areas. Before our finds, let
accompanied targeted reporting
me first discuss the historical evidence for slave trade in East Africa.

Historical Evidence for Slave Trade in East Africa

Perhaps the oldest known document that alludes to East Africa (ca 50 AD),
the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, provides glimpses of an extensive trade network
that had already existed for over a thousand years between India, Persia, Egypt, and

East Africa (Casson, 1989, p. 11). The tenth century scholar Al-Mas'udi wrote that
the "best ambergris is that found in the islands and shores of the Zanj sea," and "it is
from this country that come tusks weighing up to fifty pounds and more" (Freeman
Grenville, 1962, p. 14-15). Although he described the people of "Zanj" in detail,
he does not mention slavery as being a prominent part of commerce. Early Chinese
sources are among the few that suggest the exporting of enslaved East Africans. Yu

yang-tsa-tsu (ca 860) and Chu-fan-chih (ca 1266), while maintaining that themain
products of the East Coast were ivory and ambergris, also mentioned the kidnap
ping and selling of women and children from the Berbera coast (Somalia), Mada
gascar, and/or Pemba to foreign traders (Hirth and Rockhill, 1911, p. 128, 129).
Early written documents gave priority to the more lucrative and legitimate
trade items and mention slave trade in passing. While reporting that iron was the
primary object of trade and source of their [Mombasa andMalindi] biggest profits,
Al-Idrisi (AD 1099-1165) mentioned that foreign merchants would lure children
to their ships with dates and kidnap them (Jaubert, 1975, p. 56, 58). Like Al-Idrisi
and Al-Masudi, Ibn Battuta did not discuss slave trade as a major component of
trade by East Africa merchants (Dunn, 1986).

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64 Kusimba

Like Arab sources, European documents rarely refer to slaves and the slave
trade during the sixteenth and seventeenth century. However, one German traveler,
who accompanied Francisco d'Almeida toMombasa and Kilwa, observed inKilwa
"more black slaves than white Moors" and inMombasa all the 500 archers were
"negro slaves of the white Moors" (Freeman-Grenville, 1965, p. 107, 109). Tom?
Pires, the Portuguese ambassador to China described the Indian Ocean trade in
the early sixteenth century. From the ports of Zeila and Berbera, he noted, Arabs
obtained gold, ivory, and slaves (Freeman-Greenville, 1962, p. 125). A Franciscan
Friar, who visited Mombasa in 1606, mentioned a boat arriving from Zanzibar
with some slaves (Freeman-Grenville, 1962, p. 155). An English trading captain
noted that the governor of Mombasa, Johan Santa Coba, would send small boats
to Kilwa, Pemba, Zanzibar, and Mozambique to obtain gold, ambergris, elephant
teeth, and slaves, apparently for himself (Freeman-Grenville, 1962, p. 190). Even
when slaves are mentioned as part of cargo, their importance relative to ivory, gold,
and iron was minimal.
The European demand for enslaved East Africans is symbolized by Monsieur
Morice's treaty with the King of Kilwa inAD 1776, inwhich he promised Morice
1000 slaves annually (Freeman-Grenville, 1965, p. 191; Gray, 1956; Nwulia,
1975). European demand for ivory and plantation labor affected communities
as far as Central Africa and set in motion human and elephant depopulation
(Alpers, 1975; Beachey, 1986; Newitt, 1987; Ringrose, 2001; Schweinfurth, 1874;
Thorbahn, 1979). As early as AD 1770 slaves destined for the French plantation
in their colonies were being procured from Nyasaland [Malawi] (Alpers, 1975;
Nwulia, 1975; Sheriff, 1987, p. 159). Although Europeans initially confined their
presence inAfrica to coastal regions between the sixteenth tomid-nineteenth cen
turies, their slave trading enterprise affected all African communities. Interestingly,
Thornton (1992, p. 125) downplays the European impact by stating that the de
velopment of slavery in its most repugnant forms was more a product of active
African participation and desires for economic expansion because Europeans pos
sessed no means, either economic or to compel African leaders to sell
slaves. This interpretation is not shared by many historians and has been widely
criticized (e.g., Blaut, 1993a; Depelchin, 1999).
Before the eighteenth century, interior and coastal trade networks dealt in
legitimate items such as ivory, gold, beeswax, cloth, and beads (Horton, 1996;
Horton and Middleton,
2000; Kusimba, 1999a; Kusimba and Kusimba, 2001,
2004; Middleton, 1992; Mutoro, 1998; Mutoro and Abungu, 1993; Pearson, 1998;
Pouwels, 2000). Subsistence agriculture, herding, and collecting were the predom
inant ways of making a living. Neville Chittick (1969, p. 108-109) argued, "Goods
were brought to the coast by people from the interior; there is hardly evidence of
expeditions inland until the nineteenth century." However, several hinterland com
munities such as the Taita, Hadzabe, Iraqw,Makonde, and Oromo became victims
of slave raiding and ethnic warfare for control of trading routes (Bagshawe, 1925;
Obst, 1912). Others, like the Yao, Makua, Nyamwezi, and Akamba transformed

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Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa 65

themselves into professional ivory and slave hunters, raiders, and traders (Alpers,
1969,1975; Klein and Robertson, 1983; Lovejoy, 2000; Mutoro, 1998; Robertson,
1997). Ivory trade with overseas markets introduced guns toAfrican societies that
helped facilitate slave raids as well as "trade goods that sometimes sharpened
the appetite of Africans for additional slave raiding and trading" (Nwulia, 1975,
p. 103). Alpers (1975, p. 63) argues that before the middle of the sixteenth cen
tury, Kilwa had no need to obtain its ivory from the interior through the Yao ivory
traders or to organize caravans to look for ivory. The Yao and Nyamwezi became
professional ivory merchants whose need for porters also fueled slave raiding. Obst
(1912) reported warfare between Hadza, Isanzu, Maasai, and Iraqw. The Isanzu
would take Hadza women and children as war captives. It is possible that Isanzu
were capturing Hadza for slave trade, since the slave trade route passed through
Hadza country. According to Obst, the Isanzu began to interact peacefully with
the Hadza once the elephants became rare.

Plantation slavery fueled most of the traffic in humans from themid-nineteenth

century, sending East Africans to Reunion and the Seychelles (Cooper, 1977;
Nwulia, 1975; Sheriff, 1987). Between 1820 and 1830, 15,000 slaves per year
were exported from East Africa and 17,000 per year were exported during the
1830s (Nwulia, 1975, p. 24). During the same decade, between 15 to 18 Brazilian
slave ships a year would arrive atMozambique (Alpers, 1975, p. 211). Although
documented evidence is scanty, it is likely that the shipping of enslaved East African
to theAmericas began as early as theWest Atlantic slave trade itself (Alpers, 1975;
Carney, 2001; Littlefield, 1981; Lovejoy, 2000; Nwulia, 1975; Sheriff, 1987).
Based on Sheriff's (1987) estimate of 500 slaves per year needed in Oman,
most of the enslaved people would have ended up living on the Coast itself.2 By
the 1850s, Omani, Indian, and Swahili entrepreneurs introduced clove plantations
into Zanzibar and Pemba and transformed the Coast from a primarily mercantile
and craft economy into a plantation economy (Beachey, 1976; Cooper, 1977, p. 48;
Coupland, 1938, 1968; Glassman, 1983). Cloves were mainly grown in Zanzibar
and grains (millet and sesame) and other foodstuffs (coconuts, copra, and cotton) in
Mombasa, Malindi, and Lamu (Glassman, 1983; Morton, 1978, 1990; Ylvisaker,
1979). Demand for slaves increased upcountry. Opportunistic traders began raiding
their neighbors, such asMataka and Tippu Tip (Alpers, 1969, p. 413^14; Farrant,
1975; Gates, 1998).
The impact of slavery was devastating. Interregional trade and commerce
declined. Traditional systems of alliance and networks of exchange were irre
versibly destroyed. Trust amongst former trading partners and neighbors eroded.
Intertribal warfare increased leading to migration, relocation, abandonment, and

2Martin and Ryan (1977) estimate that between 1780 and 1896 424,100 slaves from East Africa were
transshipped to Arabia, Iran, and India. However, during the same period 833,000 were retained on
the East Coast of Africa working on plantations and in elite households, Austen (1989) contends that
during the nineteenth century alone, 313,000 East Africans from the Kenya and Tanzanian coasts were
transshipped to Arabia, Iran, and India.

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66 Kusimba

resettlement. Family life was transformed as slave takers often targeted the most
physically healthy and economically productive for enslavement. Starving, law
less refugees raided their neighbors for cattle and food. Large-scale abandonment
of farmsteads, villages, and towns for a new, more precarious way of life became
the order of events inmuch of nineteenth century East Africa. For example, in his
travels in Tanganyika [Tanzania] and Nyasaland [Malawi], Dr. David Livingstone
(1880, p. 56) reported numerous coast-bound slave caravans. He also reported
several cases of captives unable to continue the march to the coast being killed
by their captors. Near Lake Nyasa [Malawi], he met aWaiyau chief who sup
plied Arab caravans with slaves: "They almost depopulated the broad fertile tract,
of some three or four miles between the mountain range and the Lake, along
which our course lay. Itwas wearisome to see the skulls and bones scattered about
everywhere (Livingstone, 1880, p. 97-98)." MacDonald (1882, p. 76) reported
4,000 people confined on an island in Lake Chirwa, in southern Malawi, hav
ing been "obliged to live there for protection from slavers (MacDonald, 1882,
p. 76)."
The fear and insecurity that loomed in East Africa minimized legitimate ex
change, making warfare for procurement of slaves, livestock, and food inevitable.

However, the degree of social disintegration associated with slave trade has been
underestimated. Oral accounts of Kenyan communities attribute the violence to
theMaasai. Bolstered by missionary reports of theMaasai menace, these accounts
have been uncritically accepted to the point where alternative hypotheses for as
sessing the causes of regional instability have never fully been addressed (Kraph,
1860; Lugard, 1968; New, 1874; Thomson, 1885).
Slave and cattle raiding had forced Tsavo and Taveta peoples to move to
fortified localities in the hills and mountains (Bravman, 1998; French-Sheldon,
1892; Merritt, 1975; Wray, 1912). Migration and relocation created subsistence
insecurities and made people vulnerable to famine and disease. The Mwakisenge
famine that had occurred in Taita in the 1880s reported by Hobley (1895) is a
case in point. Taita to Taveta, Pare, and Ukambani,
Starving emigrated Chagga,
only to find their residents similarly afflicted. Parents reportedly sold children
into slavery for food. People starved to death in houses, on roadsides, in gardens,
everywhere and were left unburied for no one had strength to dig graves; the
number of bodies was too numerous to be disposed by hyena or other scavengers.
Sagala area inTsavo was one of the earliest and hardest hit areas. People killed one
another in competition for food and many Sagala emigrated to Giriama for relief.
Abandoned settlements reverted to wilderness. At the end of the famine, after the
rains returned, only 1000 of the estimated 10,000 Taita people survived (Merritt,
1975, p. 100-112; Strayer, 1971; Wray, 1912).
Societal disruptions caused by the slave trade, cattle raiding, and persis
tent droughts weakened pre-existing regional networks of interaction, exchange,
and crisis management. Insecurity confined people within ethnic boundaries

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Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa 67

constricting spheres of interaction. Interethnic violence and warfare increased

(Bagshawe, 1925; Fadiman, 1982; Forsbrooke, 1960; Gillman, 1944; Obst, 1912;
Weatherby, 1967). Subsistence economies based on farming and pastoralism de
clined. In some cases, smaller ethnically related communities were compelled to

aggregate into large groups strong enough to construct large fortified settlements
equipped with perimeter walls and encircled with moats, thus restraining trade
and economic welfare. The Taita people's response to these crises was to abandon

village settlements in the plains for the hills, where they remained isolated well
into the early twentieth century.



The Tsavo area is located 150 kilometers inland from Mombasa and was a
major stopping point of caravan trade. It consists of large well-watered hills, the
Taita, Sagala, and Kasigau, and arid plains (Fig. 1). It was home to a mosaic of
ethnic groups including Taita and Akamba agropastoralists, Oromo pastoralists,
andWaata hunter-gatherers. These groups were interconnected by relationships of
trade and intermarriage.3
Tsavo's oral accounts discuss waves of migration, settlement, in
termarriages, interregional trade, [local economic] interdependence, and warfare

among various Tsavo whose descendants now claim the area as their home
land (Bravman, 1998; Jackson, 1972; Kusimba and Kusimba, 1998-2002; Merritt,
1975; Morton, 1978; Stiles, 1980, 1981, 1982).
The Taita accounts also show them in the Tsavo area
agropastoral arriving
during the fifteenth century (Bravman, 1998; Merritt, 1975). Numerous accounts
discuss how the Taita dealt with crises in their new homeland. Informants repeat
edly describe unending tales of droughts, famine, diseases, alliance building, social
disruptions, warfare, and enslavement (Kusimba and Kusimba, 1998-2002). The
Taita relationship to their hunter-gatherer neighbors, theWaata, was based upon
institutions of blood brotherhood and probably sisterhood. Individuals signed an
oath in a blood ritual administered by amganga (shaman), and witnessed by several
members of the groups (see also Herlehy, 1984). Like other Tsavo groups the Taita
supplied ivory, skins, and precious stones to the Coast. They maintained inland
markets and ensured trader security in their territories. These markets were often
located along permanent streams and could have supplied fresh water, vegetables,
fruits, and other services to long distance caravan traders. also served as
collection centers for traders and their goods from further inland.

3This paper is primarily concerned with the Taita peoples for whom primary ethnohistorical and
archaeological research has been carried out by the author.

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68 Kusimba

Fig. 1. Map of East Africa showing location of Tsavo National Park.

Informants related incidents of slave raids against Sagala, Ngolia, and Kasigau
Taitas during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The alleged slave takers
were mainly Arab and Swahili, but Akamba and European dealers were also impli
cated. Informants narrated accounts of Coastal traders capturing people by deceit.
They would convince the community elders and chiefs to find them porters, who
never returned to their villages. One informant recalled an incident he witnessed
as a child when Coastal traders would come to the Rukanga market to trade cloth
in exchange for elephant tusks. When there were no tusks, traders would request
children instead. He felt that the Coastal traders cheated them. "A human being
exchanged for cloth!" They did not realize they were selling their children for cloth
(see Alpers, 1975). Another informant recalled stories from his father about Arab
and Swahili dealers.

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Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa 69

They would come to Kasigau to trade and pretend they just wanted elephant
tusks and rhino horns. The Arab traders would ask for porters to help carry it, at
least part of the way to the coast. After trekking with ivory to a certain distance,
the convoy would be ambushed and the Kasigau shackled in a chain gang and
marched to the coast. This happened to all the Kasigau communities. The com
munity initially suspected that a party of Maasai warriors ambushed their people
on their way home, so they didn't take any action against the Arabs (Kusimba and
Kusimba, 1998-2002).
The Taita elders interviewed shared many accounts of relatives who left either
voluntarily or in the employment of Arab and Swahili caravans; none returned.
Thus, narratives of the local peoples potentially reveal a complex history of inter
group social relations characterized by cooperation, conflict, and enslavement. Our
recent archaeological excavations atMount Kasigau detailing the extent and nature
of conflict during the eighteenth to early twentieth centuries support informants'

Fortified Rockshelters of Kasigau, Taita

Tsavo's prominent inselberg, Mount Kasigau, has been inhabited for over
12,000 years (Table I). Almost every aspect of the ecology and even the shape of
the mountain itself have been affected by human activity. While some areas have
been intensively modified, the presence of low intensity activities such as grazing
ensures that no part of the mountain is free from human and natural impact.
The variation in landform, environment, and human activity in and around

Kasigau has created varied types of archaeological sites. Many were inhabited con
temporaneously; rockshelters characterized by ephemeral occupational evidence
or more substantial architectural features, terrace sites with space for both housing
and and sites both at the base and on top of the mountain. Pre
agriculture; open-air
viously archaeology in the area was limited toRobert Soper's 1960's description of
three sites (Soper, 1965). We located more than 40 sites, mapped, and extensively
excavated eight rockshelters [B7,9, 20,28, and 31, Kl, 4, and 5], a terrace [29B],
and an iron-smelting site [K7] (Fig. 2).
Preliminary surveys revealed that a ring of rock shelters, the majority of
which were fortified with dry stone architecture, surrounding Kasigau (Fig. 3).
Closer examination of fortified shelters revealed that their locations had clear se
curity implications. First, the shelters themselves were small and could hold only
a handful of individuals. Second, while not easily visible from down the hill, they
afforded excellent views of the surrounding landscape. People and large wildlife
could be seen from several miles away. Third, they could be easily defended but
they were difficult to approach from the bottom of the hill. In short, location on
rocky surfaces, often at the edge of cliffs, afforded excellent scouting advantages
and short-term shelters but they were not particularly suitable for long-term oc
for humans or livestock. The construction of these shelters, however

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coast Some
trade Regular trade
No trade
Some Frequent

Residences villages
and on
and migration
rockshelters pastoral

the Tsavo Cultural Spheres

and Including Relationships With the Coast
Foraging, herding,
Foraging, cultivation
herding hunting, hunting,
herding, Elephant
Economic elephant
regional farming,
trade warfare

Predominant Late Period

Iron Iron
Age-Pastoral Age-Colonial

Neolithic Period
Age Colonial

Time 5000-3000 2000-1000

12000-5000 1000-500

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Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa 71


Fig. 2. Kasigau Archaeological Sites.

small, required a degree of coordination and cooperation necessary for mobilizing

Six site cluster types that characterize the cultural mosaic of settlement were
identified during our archaeological surveys (Table II). First, contemporaneous

20 -Front
Bungule View

Fig. 3. Bungule 20 Rocksheiter.

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170 ?25-1000
25 70-5330
70 207
? 170
yet dates

Sites Mudanda, Rukanga,

and Kisio,Muasya,Bl,9.
Kl,2, Bungule
andK7 Moju


andEuropean marine shellsand

niches,Dry Features
stonework, areas,
irrigation iron
food grinding European
remains, construction terraces,
terracing lithic
metals, faunal settlements
with ironsmithing
pens, meat
pens, and
of ditches


type Plains
Agropastoralist Inselberg
Posts Activity
Producer Trading Specialized
Occupations Fugitive
Villages Settlements

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Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa 73

sites clearly bear out the area's economic and cultural diversity. Evidence of herd
ing, contact with the Coast, and technological specialization varies among con
temporaneous habitations. Second, sites with dramatically different characteristics
and contents are found very close to each other. Site clusters at the southern end

of Mount Kasigau, for example, include evidence of specialized occupations such

as fortified rockshelters, iron working, residential, and mortuary sites. Fortified
rockshelters consisted of desiccated dung, which in some cases was more than
50-70 cm thick. They were fortified by dry stonework and had defensible en
trances and exits. In some instances, dry grass left over as fodder remained in the
pens. Two extensive ironworking sites, R2 and K7, were discovered as well as two
iron-smelting sites.

Excavations of two rockshelters Bl and Kl revealed intensive ironworking

was undertaken in Kasigau. Mortuary sites bearing human skulls were found in
every village. Residential sites were numerous and ranged from open rockshelters
to single family and extended family homesteads consisting of a number of huts
surrounded by a hedge. Residential homesteads were often built on terraces, which
also served to demarcate property lines. Each village had its own sites where all
the disinterred skulls of ancestors were collected and maintained. Three such sites,
J2, B30, and Ml were located.
All Kasigau sites are dramatically different in their location, situation, and
contents. There are clear between domestic settlements and spe
separations large
cialized economic and fortified sites. For example, rockshelters are usually sev
eral meters from domestic spheres, a pattern similar to that found at Hyrax Hill,
Engaruka and sites in the Rift Valley (Leakey, 1936; Sutton, 1998a,b). Special
ization appears to be defensive, but may also reflect functional differences due
to coastal contact in this area (Kusimba, 2003; Kusimba and Kusimba, 2004).
Three major types of residential patterns are dominant?terraced hill slope villages,
rocksheiter and cave sites, and open air villages located in the plains. Certainly,
large-scale boundaries seem to be associated with economic
ecological particular
activities?pastoralists lived on the flat plains, while agriculture was undertaken on
the hill On the other hand, within an area such as the well-watered, secure,
and tsetse-free zone likeMount Kasigau, a diversity of economic and subsistence
activities were undertaken at different sites, including foraging, herding, farming,
trading, and craft production.
How did this mosaic of site types function as a network of local and Coastal
hinterland interactions? Historical evidence coupled with excavation of site clus
ters and radiocarbon dates does provide some clues. Alliances seem to have been
particularly important. According to our ethnohistorical evidence, people pursued
multimodal subsistence economies, including combinations of hunting, collecting,
farming, trading, and herding. No particular group could claim to be completely
self-sufficient. Intercommunity and interethnic networks of alliances enabled re
source and information exchange.

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74 Kusimba

Alliances kept ethnic boundaries fluid and minimized competition and con
flicts that impacted both the cultural and ecological landscape of the region. With
out the compliance of hinterland peoples who, after all, produced the bulk of
wealth-creating products needed for the international market, the "big men" of
the Coast would not have successfully acquired their wealth (Kusimba, 1999a,b).
The Coastal elite, being aware of their weaker bargaining position, formed al
liances with their nearest rural counterparts in order to secure access to the rural

products they needed for external markets (Nicholls, 1971). Rural peoples in turn
formed networks of alliances with each other to enable the securing of those items
(Kusimba and Kusimba, 2004; Mutoro, 1998; Pearson, 1998; Robertson, 1997).
For example, the Taita and Akamba formed blood brotherhoods with theWaata.
Through these fictive ties, the former received hunting poisons and magic for
increasing their success at elephant hunting. Some Waata became clients of the
militarily powerful Oromo in exchange for protection and hunting access (Hobley,
1895). Taita and Oromo pastoralists intensified production of milk, butter, and agri
cultural produce to benefit from regional trade. Thus, in the Tsavo region, terraced
rain-fed agriculture, iron production, and pen feeding are the clearest examples of
agricultural intensification. Conversely, the decline in agricultural intensification
suggests a reversal of fortunes that archaeology can witness.


Fortified rockshelters are a striking feature of the Kasigau Hills. They testify
to the disruptive effects of slave trade and warfare in Taita (Kusimba, 2004).
Below I discuss three shelters B28, B31, and B20 and interpret their significance
in understanding precolonial upheavals in Taita.

The Bungule 28 (B28) Fortified Rocksheiter Enclosure

B28 is a rocksheiter formed by three large overhanging rocks. The entrance

to the shelter is up a steep over the remains of a human-made wall of stones
that formerly enclosed the entire opened mouth of the shelter stretching over 7 m.
The site commands an excellent view of the surrounding landscape yet it is not
visible from the plains below. The site offers two advantages: (1) visibility from
within and (2) invincibility from without. When in use, the wall must have stood
at least 2 m high in places. The enclosed space is small: 10m long, 6 m wide, and
1.5m high. Loess and rock fall has filled many areas, leaving little standing room.
Some sections of the shelter are stained with soot. The surface collections made
in the enclosure consisted of goat dung, small artifacts, porcupine quills, dik dik
(Madoqua kirkii) bones, and twine. The shelter had an entrance and exit allowing
air to flow through the site.

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Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa 75

We opened two trenches at B28. The first was a 4 x 8 m trench in the

interior. The second was a 2 x 2 m midden at the shelter entrance. Based on the
finds recovered, we concluded that the enclosure was inhabited intermittently by
people but was later, more intensively used by livestock, mostly goat and sheep
until recently. A wooden partition had later been placed in the shelter to separate
areas used by people from those of livestock. One section, Al, yielded a hearth,
maize cobs, calabash seeds, 2 small pink beads, charcoal, bones, terrestrial shells
and seeds, twine, bits of metal, and wooden arrowheads. The second section,

A2, contained large amounts of desiccated animal dung, layered in thick heaps.
Several large pieces of wood hammered into the ground were used to tether the
animals. Only a handful of cultural artifacts including charcoal, bones, and shell
were recovered inA2 but these were minimal compared to those recovered at Al
and themidden outside. Excavations at themidden revealed slightly large densities
of bones mostly of bovids and ovicaprids. Three radiocarbon dates of 170 ? 70,
180 ? 70, and 240 ? 70 [BP] placed the site into the seventeenth and nineteenth

Based on the evidence recovered, it is probable that B28 was a single-function

component of a complex site system. The low densities of cultural artifacts includ
ing pottery, iron, and beads at the site suggested the infrequent use of the site for
habitation. The low proportions of beads underscores the declining of commercial
connections with the Coast. A great deal of effort was expended on the construc
tion of the dry stonewall. The wall foundation running up to 2 m deep suggests the
of securing a strong structure.
importance protective

The Bungule 31 (B31) Fortified Rocksheiter Enclosure

B31 is a rocksheiter enclosure located up a steep slope about 5 min walk west
of B28. Located at the top of an almost vertical 20 m slope, the shelter is formed
by one large rock leaning into another, creating a triangular opening. The interior
is 9 x 8 m with a ceiling height of 1.75 m. The entrance consisting of vertical
stone slabs supported by two large Y-shaped wooden beams remains in place.
The interior is divided into two roughly equal sections by a fence of interlocked
The exterior wall of the shelter has collapsed inmany areas, scattering the rock
and wooden beams about the entrance. The wooden beams used in the masonry

construction vary between 8 cm and 10 cm in diameter while those used in the

internal partition are 2-3 cm in diameter. The uses of the shelter were similar to
those in B28. Excavations yielded little fauna and microfauna, a handful of beads,
two arrowheads, and amounts of recent desiccated dung. The sparseness of
the material remains suggests that the enclosure was probably used intermittently
by both humans and domestic animals. Like B28, a great deal of labor, time, and
materials were invested in fortifying the shelter.

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76 Kusimba

The Bungule 20 (B20) Fortified Rocksheiter Enclosure

B20 is one of three largest rockshelters we have discovered in Kasigau.4 It

is also the most secure on the southern side of mount Kasigau. The site originally
had two separate enclosures: one only partially fortified and the other completely
fortified. The fully fortified one covers the eastern half of the site with walls
approximately 2 m thick at the base and 14 m long. The size of the enclosure is
approximately 11m long, 6 m wide, and 1.75 m high. The ceiling height is variable;
as low as 30 cm in some areas. The surface of the enclosure is a thick
deposit of
desiccated animal dung reaching 80 cm thick in some areas. The partially fortified
section with dimensions of 7 m long, 6 m wide, and 1.5^4-m high ceiling covers the
western half of the site. B20's large size, location, elevation, and
commanding view
of the general landscape most likely contributed to its prominence and
It has a formidable appearance, with impressive dry-stone architecture around a
very large enclosed space (Fig. 3).
The most intact of the fortified Kasigau rocksheiter enclosures, B20 is faced
with a large dry stonewall reaching nearly 2 m in height. A vertical wooden frame
supports the wall. Erosion of the terrace and cliff has moved the stonewall, leaving
a gap of about 1m between the
ceiling and the wall. The doorway is a tunnel
approximately 1.5m long running through the wall and is lined with vertical slabs
supporting four heavy beams, which in turn support the rocks' weight. The entrance
emerges into an area protected by a wooden partition that runs parallel to the wall.
This entire front portion of the shelter contains cultural debris,
including pottery
and gourds. Behind the partition, piles of desiccated
dung dominate the shelter.
The dung extends under the front wall to the
paths outside and a clear sheltered
area to the enclosure.
Two distinct activity areas characterize this site. This section is reminiscent
of modern pastoralists' calf or goat pens inside
larger corrals. This area contains
thick deposits of desiccated as well as recent
dung. Some sections especially the
southern and western subsections are
surprisingly clean, exhibiting no dung, and
have remains offence posts
running along the length of the rocksheiter and served
as a fence to prevent
people and animals from falling down the cliff.
Excavations carried out in the
partially fortified enclosure revealed that B20
had four major occupational phases (Table
III). Preliminary analyses of finds con
sisting of large quantities of quartz flakes and cores suggest that the site
have initially been inhabited by Neolithic
foragers who subsisted on small, largely
nonmigratory fauna and microfauna and, occasionally on bovids and
During the end of the phase amarked dietary change occurred with the
large bovids
and ungulates comprising 40% of the faunal remains. I
attribute this change to in
troduction and use of iron, which made the
killing of larger mammals easier. The
construction of the fortified wall occurred
during the third phase. Three samples
4The others are Rukanga 1 (Rl) and 1 (Ml).

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Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa 77

Table III. Radiocarbon dates of Bungule 20

ISGS number C-14 age (RCYBP) C-13 (% PDP) Site type

ISGS-5231 120 ?70 -24.5 Fortified

ISGS-5230 150 ?70 -25.2 Fortified
A-0218 207 ?40 -25.1 Fortified
ISGS-4873 290 ?70 -26.8 Fortified
ISGS-4874 300 ?70 -25.9 Fortified
ISGS-5232 330 ?70 -24.8 Fortified
ISGS-5233 380 ?70 -24.8 Fortified
ISGS-5229 790 ?70 -25.3 Not fortified

obtained from the vines and wood holding the dry stone wall were dated to 207 ?
40, 290 ? 70, 300 ? 70 BP, placing the date of construction of the dry wall in the
late sixteenth and early eighteenth centuries. The final phase of rocksheiter use
was recent and was exclusively used as a goat/sheep pen.
Excavations also revealed a detailed process of dry stone construction. This
involved the digging of a foundation and erecting a wooden frame with termite
resistant hardwood beams that were secured with twine. rocks were then
placed along the wooden frame. Smaller rocks were fitted into the gaps. Finally,
wet soil was used as mortar to secure the wall. The resulting structure was a
strong, nearly impenetrable, aesthetically beautiful enclosure.
Interestingly, like B28 and B31, this site lacked cultural artifacts revealing its
intermittent use. Thus, the partially fortified section served multiple functions: (1)
as a courtyard for household activities including cooking and milking and (2) as
a convenient area for holding livestock including cattle. Grass and other fodder
would be stowed in this area. Finally, it was an excellent area for resting and even

sleeping. The dung deposits in both enclosures reveal the intensity of pen feeding
that was carried out at the site during the final phase of site occupation.


How may we interpret the archaeological data recovered from B20, B28, and
B31? The most obvious uses of the enclosure are for pen feeding of goat and/or
sheep. This was especially true during the final occupational phase. The large piles
of desiccated dung within the enclosures and outside show later rocksheiter uses
that can mask the initial intention for fortification. As discussed above, our survey
showed that Kasigau appears to have been surrounded by a ring of fortified rock
shelters. Fortification dates only to approximately 300 BP. Based on historical and
oral traditions, this was a time when the European and American demand for East
African ivory and slaves increased (Alpers, 1975; Mutoro, 1998; Pearson, 1998;
Ringrose, 2001; Robertson, 1997; Sheriff, 1987; Spear, 1978, 1981; Thorbahn,
1979). Much of the ivory destined for South Asia was initially exported through

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78 Kusimba


M 400000

S 200000
r o 100000
0 1507 1754 1881
Fig. 4. East African Ivory Exports, 1507-1881.

the Portuguese controlled ports of Sofala. However, a decline in ivory from the
Southeast African hinterland and the increasing distance for procuring ivory in
the eighteenth century forced these ports to increasingly turn to metal and cattle
exports (Newitt, 1987).
To meet the shortfall, traders turned their attention to the East African coastal
hinterland resulting into the Northern Coasts gradually becoming the main sup
pliers of ivory after 1750 (Coupland, 1938, 1968; Newitt, 1972, 1987; Thorbahn,
1979, p. 101, 284, 285; Ylvisaker, 1982). The coastal demand, particularly from
the Indian subcontinent was a significant enough factor for changing the ecologi
cal and cultural landscapes of the northern hinterlands (Kusimba and Bronson, in
press; Oka et a/., in press).
Thorbahn's basic analysis5 of the ivory trade data from archival records seems
to suggest that the volume of ivory trade substantially increased, despite relative
instability in the Indian subcontinent following the collapse of "Islamic Peace"
(Gupta, 1987; Naqvi, 1972; Pearson, 1998; Prakash, 1998). Om Prakash (1998)
suggested that Indian merchants (as well as others) circumvented political barriers
to stay in business using a number of strategies ranging from bribing officials, to
secret business deals, and smuggling (Fig. 4; Oka et ai, in press).

51 am grateful to Barbara Thorbahn for making the Late Frederick Peter Thorbahn's field and archival
notes available to me.

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Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa 79

The scant archaeological evidence recovered bolsters the hypothesis that the
shelters were only used intermittently and for specific purposes. I draw several
inferences from these data. First, Kasigau people had prior experience in dry
stone architecture that they applied in rocksheiter fortification. The scanty material
evidence contrasts with the intensity of labor. For example, B20 and the as yet to
be excavated Rl were located on a very steep cliff and required considerable labor
input to construct. Mobilization of labor in these projects required strong leadership
and cohesion. Fortified rocksheiter use was shortlived (i.e.,
community relatively
from the mid-eighteenth to late-nineteenth century). They were used largely as
goat/sheep pens in the twentieth century. Therefore, it is probable that rocksheiter
fortification was a response to specific circumstances and was constructed for
defensive functions as "maroons" or refugia towhich people and livestock retreated
when threatened by enemies.
Informant and historical accounts discussed above show that eighteenth and
nineteenth century East Africa was punctuated by insecurity and instability that
was a consequence of slave trade, warfare, and climate change. Slave raiding
and warfare caused widespread insecurity that affected legitimate regional trade
and alliance networks. Climatic changes, especially prolonged droughts, caused
widespread food shortages leading to regional famine (Kusimba, 2004). These
crises often resulted inwidespread famine-related diseases that spread very quickly
through the land as people and livestock emigrated in search for food and pasture
or were moved as slaves (Watts, 1997).
Oral and historical accounts and archaeological data provide multiple lines of
evidence that support the hypothesis that rocksheiter fortifications inKasigau were
defensive. First, the labor invested does not justify their use primarily for penning
goat/sheep. However, once they were fortified, their use gradually evolved to serve
multiple purposes, including protection for people and livestock and pen feeding.
Their location in hard to reach but easily defensible areas coupled with their thick
walls would have discouraged even the most determined enemy.
Informants' accounts of migration to the top of the Mount Kasigau during
the century to escape raids by slave seekers and cattle rustlers were
confirmed by the recovery of a large settlement on the mount top during the 2002
season. One informant stated that once their ancestors settled on the mountaintop

they began to exploit its sweet water and fertile soils over the dry plains, which
teemed with tsetse flies and slave raiders. Scouts used rockshelters to survey the
movement of caravans. Whenever they were attacked, a handful of archers used
these shelters to disrupt the enemy advance while the scouts warned the community
up the hill to prepare for war. Even if the raiding party reached the settlements up
the hill, they would still have had to fight their way down with their loot. In both
cases, the Taita were likely to have an upper hand in the event of an attack.
In sum, fortification was likely responsive to coastal slave raiding and cattle
rustling. Before the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Kasigau were active
participants in the trade networks, as suppliers of resources for the traders and

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80 Kusimba

their cargo. Excavations coupled with oral accounts suggest a shifting scenario in
the nature of relationships between Kasigau and the Coast. Increased raids from
better-armed and numerically superior enemies, especially after 1800, compelled
the Kasigau people to abandon their homesteads in the plains for the security of
the hills.


Slave trade and slavery devastated African people and reconfigured the so
cial, technological, and political economy of African polities. Despite attempts
to rewrite African history and equitably apportion blame on slavery, it remains
clear that enslavement and transshipment of African people toAsia and the Amer
icas depopulated the African continent, fostered instability, and contributed to the
economically crippling wars of post-sixteenth century Africa (Klein, 1993). Slav
ery and the slave trade inspired warfare, caused widespread insecurity, mobility,
and exposed people to famine and disease. Enslaved people also spread diseases
amongst themselves and those among whom they now settled (Bagshawe, 1925;
Obst, 1912; Watts, 1997). Internal trade and interaction networks were severely
weakened, as were networks of alliance. These crises weakened the competitive
ness of African economies and paved the way for foreign takeover and control of
the African political economy by the nineteenth century.
To what extent may archaeologists contribute to the study of slavery inAfrica?
can tell us of responses to enslavement, and
Archaeology everyday experiences,
the processes of change and exchange between masters and their slaves (Singleton,
1995). Research in South Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America has
clearly demonstrated archaeology's ability to reconstruct the of en
slaved persons. Archaeologists have successfully shown covert and overt means

through which enslaved peoples recreated their identities (Agorsah, 1990, 1993;
Funari, 1999; Orser and Funari, 2001; Price, 1979; Singleton, 2001; Webster,
1999). Pottery and bead analyses in household, field, and burial contexts have re
vealed rich data showing enslaved peoples' attempts to sustain their own cultures
and values and/or to distinguish themselves from their masters' culture altogether
(Ferguson, 1992; Orser, 1994; Singleton, 1999; Stine et al, 1996; Young, 1996).
Isotope analyses on remains of enslaved persons can enable us to chart migra
tion patterns of the trade and reconstruct individual histories of enslaved persons
with precision previously impossible (e.g. Cox et al., 2001; Sealey et al., 1995).
Archaeology in concert with other allied subdisciplines can now demonstrate the
personal histories of life in bondage, show individuals' adjustments to new dietary
requirements, the nature of work performed, and how both affected their natural
health and longevity. These data are a powerful means for addressing the vexing
issues of the dehumanization of the enslaved persons, which was so necessary for
justifying slavery (Morris, 1992, 1996; Ross, 1983; Shell, 1994).

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Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa 81

Turning to East Africa, there are many areas in which these studies can be
undertaken, for both chattel slavery and resistance to enslavement. The Omani
Arabs introduced chattel slavery on the East Coast of Africa in the eighteenth
century. Resistance to slavery began even earlier on the Coast, and developed in the
interior as raids and wars for slaves intensified. During the seventeenth to nineteenth
century, the construction of fortified, defensive settlements in the East African
interior was most likely a response to prevailing insecurity. Settlement fortification
was a regionwide phenomenon (Chittick, 1965; Fadiman, 1982; Jackson, 1948;
Lofgren, 1967; Perham, 1979; Scully, 1969, 1979; Spear, 1978; Sutton, 1965;
Wandibba, 1972;Weatherby, 1967). Many of these settlements developed along the
trade routes (Gillman, 1944; Wakefield, 1870). Accounts show these settlements
as responses to regional instability caused by the slave trade and exacerbated by
climate change. Settlement aggregation and fortification and abrupt settlement
abandonment common in post-sixteenth century Africa can be fruitfully studied
archaeologically to understand post-sixteenth century African experiences.


Research in Tsavo was made possible by the memoranda of understanding

between the Field Museum and the National Museums of Kenya and the Kenya
Wildlife Services. Archaeological investigations were made possible through a
research permit form the Office of the President and excavation permit from the
Ministry of Home Affairs, Republic of Kenya. This research was funded by the
US National Science Foundation Grants. I gratefully acknowledge the people of
Kasigau for generously sharing their knowledge. Several Kenyan and American
undergraduate students participated in this research. I am especially indebted to
Stephen Dueppen, Daphne Ghalagher, Rahul Oka, Paul Wahiu, Carrie Burkhard,
Jacinta Mutegi, and Kavita Sharma for supervising excavations and conducting
ethnographic interviews during the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Without the generous
support of Musombi Kiberenge, Chui Nganga, Paul Watene, and Samuel Munyiri
of the National Museums of Kenya and Joseph Kisio, Robert Muasya, and Joram
Masimba of the Kenya Wildlife service, the Tsavo research would never have been
undertaken. David Western and Isabella Ocholla, formerly of the Kenya Wildlife
Services provided the initial encouragement for doing research in the Tsavo region.
Colleagues Antonio Curet, Peter Gayford, Helen Haines, Edward Yastrow, and
Sibel B. Kusimba read and critiqued earlier drafts of this paper.


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